Egon Schiele

Tulln, Lower Austria, 12 June 1890 - 1918 October 31(?), Vienna

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Roessler recorded what is purported to be his last words, "On earth... perhaps mankind will now be free. I must leave. Dying is both sad and difficult. And yet no more difficult than life, my life, attacked by so many people. Sooner or later, when I am dead, they will revere me, and admire my art. Will they do so in the same manner as they formerly reviled me, scorned and rejected my work? Such misunderstandings will always happen, with me and with others. What does it matter?"

His sister in law reported him saying as he died, "The war is over and I must go. My paintings shall be shown in all museums of the world."

STYLE

Economy of means in portrait painting during 1916-7 looks forward to the shallow, imperfectly defined space of his last works: Figures set against a dark, loosely brushed background of indeterminate depth.

TIMELINE

1890

Born 12 June in Tulln. Son of a railway official, he is educated at the local primary school and then at the grammar school at Krems.

1902

Attends the Landes-Real- und Obergymnasium at Klosterneuburg. The church and convent there may be recognized in his earliest paintings. Resented formal education as an intrusion upon his freedom. Quote p. 208 source 1.

1905

Father dies and uncle Leopold Czihaczek becomes his guardian. Paints his portrait 1907. Czihaczek intended to send Egon to Vienna's Technische Hochschule in accordance to his father's wishes, but Egon was clearly more interested in an artistic career.

1906

Passes the entrance exam, accepted into Griepenkerl's painting class at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna where he studied until 1909. No better luck with his professors here and drives Griepenkerl to say 'You! You! The Devil sent you into my class!.'

1907

Met Klimt. Went to Trieste with his younger sister Gertrude and completed a number of paintings which show the influence of Jugendstil.

1908

First public appearance at an exhibition held May/June in the convent at Klosterneuburg where he met Heinrich Benesch who became one of the first collectors of his watercolors and drawings. Quote from him page 2081.  His son Otto, an art historian, later becomes the director of the Albertina. Schiele paints a double portrait of father and son in 1913.

1909

Finishes at the Academy in Vienna. At some point he contributes to the Berlin weekly Die Aktion.

Makes Viennese debut at the Internationale Kunstschau with four paintings. Portraits of Hans Massmann, a fellow student painter at the Academy, and of Anton Peschka, who was to marry his sister. Massmann shows affinity to Munch with its grain like textures and use of a decorative border. The "world of feeling and choice of subject-matter" in Munch's paintings of the turn of the century are related to themes Schiele selected in his early expressionistic period. In Dead Mother (1910) treats a similar subject which Munch handles in his Puberty or The Sick Mother.

Unlike the Expressionists of the Brucke group, S style use subtle and delicate effects of color and tone.

He pays unconcealed homage to Klimt in the two versions of his composition Watersprites which use Klimt's Zug der Toten (Procession of the Dead 1903) and Watersprites II (1904) as points of departure. S also paints a version of Klimt's Danae which in turn may have influenced the pose for the female figure in Klimt's Leda (1917).

Klimt's influence recedes but mutual respect and admiration continue. At some point S suggested an exchange of drawings such that S would offer several for one of Klimt's to which Klimt replies, "Why on earth do you want to swap drawings with me? You draw better than I do!" Klimt agrees and buys several more from S. Klimt introduced his most important patron to S, August Lederer. S painted a portrait of Lederer's son Erich in 1912 and later gives him drawing lessons.

Co founds Neukunstgruppe (New Art Group) with Paris von Gutersloh, Peschka, Anton Faistauer, Franz Wiegele and Hans Bohler. They hold their first exhibition at the Salon Pisko on the Schwarzenbergplatz in December. Faistauer designed the poster. (He also wrote one of the first general accounts of avant-garde painting in Austria.) S was introduced to collectors Carl Reininghaus and Oskar Reichel, the publisher Eduard Kosmack (whose portrait he painted in 1910) and perhaps most important of all, critic Arthur Roessler, who became his first official champion. Quote from him p. 2121. This show produced the first detailed reviews including one by A.F. Seligmann, p. 2131. Here we find the beginnings of accusations of pornography. In fact S did at times make a living from his more explicit drawings. There was a at time plans to publish a folder of his erotic subjects in a limited edition of one hundred copies, but it did not materialize. As sexuality, including infantile, remains vital to his inspiration, we find during the period of 1909-11 anatomical, almost gruesome portraits including his famous nude self portraits, and variations upon the themes of suffering and crucifixion. Like Kokoschka, his own body is no less of interest than those of his models. He frequently employed children for his early nude studies which soon aroused suspicions. He replied to his interest in younger models once, 'I certainly didn't feel erotic when I made them!' Roessler, perhaps to shield his protégé, recorded his words,

The twisted faces which torment me, and which I could not obliterate from my retina, however hard I tried, are gone, gone! Why so suddenly? Because I have seen the faces of young girls which bear no sign of passion and suffering, no trace of the knowledge of any man! -I tell you-you must believe me-there is something sacred about the pure face of a chaste, beautiful girl!

"the tension between the innocence of the scarcely formed bodies of his sitters and the emphasis he places upon details of genitalia, the frequently lascivious poses he utilizes, above all a certain knowing quality in the eyes and faces of the children portrayed, which instills in these works their vital, eerie, unique character."1

1911

Moves to Bohmisch Krumau in Bohemia, on a bend of the Moldau, which was his mother's birthplace, with his mistress Wally Neuzil. (now Cesky Krumlov, Czechoslovakia) His paintings of Krumau are among the first important works of his early maturity and despite his often improbable-seeming viewpoint, reflect a high degree of topographical accuracy. He has moved beyond the influence of Jugendstil adopting a far more complex geometrical structure, but retain the same shallow space and essentially vertical composition.

His and Wally's bohemian lifestyle prompt them to leave Krumau in late summer and move to Neulengbach. Unwilling to order his personal finances, he is reduced to not having money for canvases or paint. Quote to his mother p. 216. Also writes to Roessler.

Joined the Munich group Sema to which Klee and Kubin belonged.

1912

Moves back to Vienna and rented a large studio in Hietzinger Hauptstrasse where he remained until death.

Spring: Arrested on the charge of seducing a minor and he was eventually acquitted as there was almost certainly no foundation for the charge, but was sentenced on a lesser charge, that of disseminating indecent drawings. One of his nude drawings pinned up on the wall of his lodgings was burnt before him at the hearing. He spent a total of twenty four day in prison at Neulengbach and at St. Polten during March and April. He wrote to Roessler on 9 May, 'I am wretched, I tell you, I am inwardly so wretched', and as late as 19 September 'I must live day after day with the evil thought that I work at nothing and just wait and wait. From March until now, I have just not been able to paint or, above all, to think.' Restless wandering late summer and early autumn.

In the spring and autumn he exhibited at the Munich Secession and at the freat Sonderbund Exhibition in Cologne.

Winter Trees: line is reduced to the merest indication of the supports upon which the composition is to be built.

1913

In January and February he had six works in the 43rd Secession exhibition.
In June and July the Munich Dealer Hans Goltz held a collected show of his work at his Gallery Neue Kunst for which S had received a contract the year before. He was elected a member of the Bund Oesterreichischer Kunstler and participated in their exhibition in Budapest in March.
Exhibits at the Munich Secession?

1914

Participated in exhibitions in Dresden, Hamburg, Munich (Secession?), and the German Werkbund exhibition in Cologne that summer. Beginning of the year he probably met Edith Harms, daughter of the master locksmith Johann Harms. S embarks on a new group of pictures remarkable for their intricacy of composition and power of imagery: Sunflowers, Young Mother, Man and Woman, as well as the portrait of the beautiful Friederike Maria Beer, friend of the artist Hans Bohler, whom Klimt also depicted in one of the finest of his late portraits.

1915

At two preliminary medical examinations he had been found unfit for military service. Pouring his energies into a collective exhibition of his work to be held at the Galerie Arnos (whom he later did a portrait) in Vienna from December 1914 - January 1915 for which Heinrich Benesch wrote the introduction to the catalogue. May he marries Edith. End of May declared fit for service and reports for duty in Prague on 21 June. Edith followed him there. Two weeks later he was assigned to guard duties at Neuhaus and by late summer he was back in Vienna. He drew a number of the Russian prisoners of war he escorted.

Exhibits at the Munich Secession?

1916

He is transferred to Liesing in the spring where he was able to spend his free time working in his studio in the Hietzinger Hauptstrasse. He completed a townscape of Modling and began a portrait of his father-in-law Johann Harms. In May he is posted at the Russian officers prison camp at Muhling where Lieutenant Herrmann gave S a temporary studio where he probably painted the now vanished Vision of St Hubert.

Franz Pfemfert's periodical Die Aktion brought out a S issue with six drawings including a self portrait on the title page. This publication had included prose and poems and reproductions of S's drawings since 1913.

Exhibits at the Munich Secession?

1917

Transferred to the offices of the Imperial Supply Department where the officer in charge Hans Rose and his deputy Karl Grunwald employed S for any 'artistic' jobs: printing of new forms, design of an oval signboard with the title of the unit and the coat of arms of Austria-Hungary. Rose sent S and Grunwald on a tour of the provincial headquarters to draw stores, offices, etc in order to publish (which never happened) a pictorial record of the department's work.

Founded Kunsthalle (Hall of Art) with Klimt to stop the flight of talent abroad. 'to unite young, independent people with the intention of gathering together those forces from realms of art which have been scattered by the war... to give visual artists, poets and musicians the opportunity of reaching a public which, like themselves, is prepared to fight against the ever-growing cultural dissolution.' He enlisted also Hoffmann, Hanak, Altenberg and Schoenberg. Nothing came of it.

His absorbing interest in sexuality remains expressed, albeit somewhat muted, in studies of himself embracing his wife (1915) and in the "unashamedly erotic of all his later paintings" the Recumbent Woman (1917) in which he uses his 'good angel' Edith as the model. We find in this work his "search for balance and symmetry, an even greater emphasis upon geometry, and a far more structural use of colour and brushstroke. This in contrast to the "nervousness and intensity of line, the angular distortions" of his pre-war paintings. Although this never completely leaves his art.

He exhibits at the Munich Secession (as he had in previous years). Sent contributions to Copenhagen, Stockholm and Amsterdam.

1918

Portrait of painter Paris von Gutersloh with emphasis given to the hands, the artist's instrument. Reminds of Kokoschka's portraits before WWI.

Portrait of Dr. Franz Martin Haberditzl, one S's first admirers and the director of the Oesterreichische Galerie, whose stiffening hands can barely hold a study by Schiele. He acquired S's Portrait of Edith Seated (1917-8), one of S's finest works. Haberditzl did not like the brightly checked skirt, and thus S applied a more somber color.

Lacking the tortured, emaciated nudes; the blues and reds reminiscent of flayed carcasses, Schiele's happiness found in marriage is shown in The Family. Selling this painting at the forty-ninth Vienna Secession, Schiele finally achieves financial security. This exhibition was devoted to Schiele and his friends: Faistauer, Jungnickel, Merkel, Gutersloh, Melzer, Kubin, Peschka. Schiele showed nineteen paintings and a number of watercolors and drawings including: The Family, Recumbent Woman, Mother with Two Children, Death and the Maiden, Portrait of Edith Seated, portraits of Karl Grunwald, Johann Harms, and Ritter von Bauer, several townscapes, a number of later views of Krumau. S's first major success in Vienna. Roessler wrote in the Arbeiter-Zeitung on March 23: 'Fate has decreed that he should become famous, not merely notorious, in his own lifetime. For Vienna, an unthinkable occurrence.'

In May he sent paintings to Zurich for the large exhibition 'A Century of Viennese Painting' held at the Kunsthaus. The Secession invited him to participate in their exhibition of portraits in the autumn. There were plans for exhibitions in Prague and Wiesbaden. In June he again showed a collection of drawings at the Galerie Arnos which would be his last appearance in Vienna. His success shown by the conservative Seligmann in the Neue Freie Presse, p. 241.

19 October his wife, racked by Spanish influenza wrote, 'I love you so much... my love for you is beyond all bounds, beyond all measure.' She died the following day. S telephoned Hans Rose in despair. Three days later he succumbs to the same fate.

 

SOURCES

1)    Art in Vienna 1898 - 1918, Peter Vergo, Phaidon Press Limited, Oxford, Second Impression 1986. First Published 1975.
2)   
The Expressionists. Wolf-Dieter Dube, trans by Mary Whittall. Thames and Hudson, 1972.